Tuesday, February 01, 2005

BBS (bulletin board system): The Documentary

ANSI art
ANSI art,
originally uploaded by inf.

I've been fiddling with computers long enough that I remember the glory nostalgic days of pre-internet era called Bulletin Board Systems. You hooked up your 9600 baud modem and dialed through your list of BBSs, hoping that one of them could answer. During that time a phone call at our area charged around 0,08€€ a shot, no matter how long it was (!) As BBSs were mostly _the source_ of interesting files and discussions, you idled in BBSs just after midnight and consumed your precious daily download ratio till the morning, maybe playing some rounds of L.O.R.D at the same time or chatting with the SysOp in a split-screen chat.

The world's largest BBS was MBnet, located in Finland in my local area. It had 1000 nodes. MBnet was great for general-interest files, chat and door games, but the most interesting stuff was found in the topic-specific underground BBSs, often decorated with great looking character-based art.

I operated my single-line private BBS back in the day for a limited number of friends. I based it on the now notorious PcBoard software. First calls were most interesting.. "no one, in any circumstance, answer that phone when it rings, thank you!"

Trivia: Did you know, that the FILE_ID.DIZ files still around today were popularized by the PcBoard software? The reason was to include file descriptions inside the archives to let the users use the FILE_ID.DIZ contents as description of the uploaded file instead of writing their own.

ANSI and ASCII graphics also took off during those glorious days, which are still competed as an art form in the scene. I also got into drawing my own (see the inlined image). I also programmed in PPL, a Basic-like programming language for extending your PcBoard software.

The interesting thing about BBSs is that the glorious days were short lived. The unsung heroes who invented and prospered in the BBS community later affected how the internet formed out. These smart people are now scattered all around the world. That's why the BBS: The Documentary coming out in the following months is an important piece of work. Thank you! I'm so getting this.

This is important. A full-fledged documentary of BBSs does not exist. BBSs are often just a side note in stories like the Hacker Crackdown of a place where crackers meeted and discussed their attacks.

There is some entertaining media already available about the production.

14 Comments:

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It could be the incredible fried pies and the world class wine cellar, but it's not. It could be the treasures of sculpture and avante-gard furnishings, but it's really not that, either. The whole-house Bose system? No, not even that. So... what is it about this itinerate cobbler's son become raconteur and fashion policeman to the world's glitterati that makes him the center of today's Powerpeoples' world?

 
At 4:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buddy Hinton childish troll -- Sturmgewehr.Com : Kevorkian's secret formulae are the real story behind the remarkable preservation of Lenin's remains.

It is said that Lenin is so perfectly preserved that only a simple electrical treament would be necessary to restore him to full function. According to sources, nothing more complex than an ordinary automotive storage battery and a few feet of enameled magnet wire would be required to administer the restorative procedure.

These facts, which are no longer in dispute by any serious scholar, make clear the true purpose behind Jack Kevorkian's persistent experimentation upon the newly- dead and the nearly-dead. He is not motivated by any compassionate impulse. Rather, Dr. Kevorkian seeks nothing less than immortality for himself and the Russian Communist Old Guard. It is safe to assume that Kevorkian expects to be richly rewarded for his services by the ruling elite of a new Communist hegemony under a Lenin restored to his full vigour and health.

 
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At 2:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the three weeks before the attack, the Nelsons and VegSource had fought a running online battle with a group of vociferous pro-gun ideologues intent on disrupting debate at VegSource and harassing the Nelsons. According to the Nelsons, not long after they started deleting what they considered inappropriate posts to their message boards, they began to receive obscene phone calls and threatening e-mail. They saw their own physical address and phone numbers posted to message boards at pro-gun sites, along with threats to send the Nelsons a destructive computer virus. At one site in particular, "Tom Bowers' Politically Incorrect Machine Gun Pages," aka "Subguns," the message board participants reveled in whipping each other into a frenzy of anti-vegetarian and anti-VegSource fervor.

Submachine gun groupies on the warpath against animal-loving vegetarians? At first glance, it looks like just another wacky slice of Net life. And we haven't even begun to discuss the role of talk show host Rosie O'Donnell in all of this. Or the pistol-packing vegans popping out of the Web woodwork. Or the attack on Subguns itself by demented white power racists hailing from a Web site devoted to Adolf Hitler.

But to the Nelsons, the loss of three years of work -- three years of interactively created content generated by an entire community -- isn't in the least bit ludicrous. Instead, it's a depressing indication of where the Web is headed, mid-1999.

As the Web matures, it reflects ever more closely the stresses and shocks that radiate through the offline world --- and its edges seem to sharpen. The VegSource trauma, for example, was a direct outgrowth of the Littleton high school massacre. Increasingly, the Web is where people are turning to voice their outrage and act out their passions in the wake of galvanizing current events.

At the same time, the Web is accelerating the creation of ever more specialized "communities of interest" -- gathering places for more or less like-minded people, united by their love for dairy-free diets or Thompson submachine guns. These communities are fast becoming online tribes. Which means that what happened to VegSource may represent something more than just run-of-the-mill social friction: It could be a sign of burgeoning online tribal warfare.

The two central players in the guns vs. veggies drama, Subguns and VegSource, could hardly seem more different. In one corner, we have a bunch of card-carrying NRA members who like to share pictures of themselves firing lethal weapons. In the other, we find a flood of Gaia-worshippers who flaunt photographs of pet kittens. At Subguns, the regulars ask each other arcane questions about legal restrictions on high-caliber ammunition; at VegSource, the search is on for the perfect recipe for vegan chocolate eclairs (no eggs, please!).

But there are similarities, too. It's not just that passionate gun rights activists and animal-liberation freedom fighters can be capable of nearly identical forms of arrogant intolerance. Or that both Web sites employ the same freely available Web conferencing software on their message boards -- a program that makes anonymous and forged postings fairly easy. Both sites feature numerous topic-oriented message boards where there is little tumult -- but each has at least one board in which political discussion regularly leads to flame wars.

Most significantly, Subguns and VegSource are both excellent examples of one of the most salient recent developments in Web life: they're topic-specific online communities that have settled next to quasi-commercial hubs. Subguns belongs to Tom Bowers, a federally licensed firearms dealer who sells rifle silencers and equipment for modifying semi-automatic weapons. VegSource is a non-profit organization, but it sells ads to support its operation and features numerous links to other commercial, vegetarian-oriented Web sites.

Both sites exploit the Web's greatest strength, its nurturing embrace of niche communities. The Web makes it easy to create a home for any point of view, any particular predilection or prejudice. But the fallout from such niche-ification doesn't have to be friendly: It's just as easy to brew hate as love. Jeff and Sabrina Nelson found that out the hard way in early May.

Bowers says his Web site offers one utterly unmoderated message board for general discussion of gun-related matters where "you can post any kind of offensive crap." (That message board, which was operational throughout the period during which this article was researched, went offline at almost the exact same time Salon published this article. A note Bowers posted on another message board at his site offers no explanation but says "it's going to be a few days" before the board is back up again.)

"It's a service to the community," he says. "There are very few places where you can go on the Net and put anything you want up there without any form of censorship at all. Unfortunately, because it is unmoderated, it is open to trolls," says Bowers, referring to participants in an online discussion who post comments designed purposely to spark outrage. "We are getting hammered by the Nazis and the Antis [anti-gun advocates]."

Nazis? Few veterans of online discourse would dare contradict the truth of Godwin's Law: the longer an online discussion grows, the more likely it is that a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler will be made. But back in 1990, when Mike Godwin formulated his law, few people (excepting Godwin himself) might have imagined that before the decade was over, actual Nazis would be raiding Web sites on a regular basis.

Perhaps it was just a twisted form of Web karmic retribution that sent the white power nuts from adolfhitler.com trolling over to Subguns. Certainly there was no shortage of absurd irony to be found in watching the Subgun regulars complain about jerkish behavior by outside invaders. The whole thing could also have been a farce -- an up-to-date version of the infamous attack on the Usenet newsgroup rec.pets.cats by alt.tasteless back in 1993.

Or maybe the most cynical Subgun suspicions are true, and the so-called Nazis are in reality sneaky vegetarians impersonating "white gun owners." In the aftermath of the destruction of the VegSource server, the chaos overrunning the Subguns board -- a welter of forged posts, imposters and anonymous trolls -- obliterated any chance to make sense out of the mess.

You never really know what's going on out there in the uncharted wastelands of the Web, anyway. Hitler, guns and veggies; fakes, frauds and trolls: Life on the Net often seems baroque and bizarre, weirdly unrepresentative of how real life works. But a

ll too often, online explosions can be traced back to offline catastrophes. A massacre here, an annihilated Web server there -- it's all connected.

 
At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man Arrested on Anthrax Hoax Charges John Melvin Davis

A man accused of mailing hundreds of anthrax hoax letters -- including one to President George W. Bush -- was arrested Friday, two days after he was charged with threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.
John Melvin Davis, 49, sent more than 200 of the letters, each containing a white sheet of paper with the word "anthrax" written vertically in multi-colored block letters, according to the FBI. The letters, which contained no return addresses, were sent to government agencies, media personalities, actors and actresses, and businesses.

"He had a habit of using the same rainbow-colored pencil," said FBI Special Agent Steve Siegel. "He was sending these out to hundreds of people, various governmental agencies, media people, actresses."

None of the envelopes contained anthrax, the biological agent used in a series of unsolved 2001 mailings that killed five people. All were tested at a New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services laboratory, Siegel said.

More Than 200 Letters Intercepted

The mailings apparently began in May. Twenty of the letters were intercepted by US Postal Service employees in Freehold Township and Westfield in May and June, according to a complaint filed by Special Agent David Goldkopf.

One reached a hospital in Freehold on June 7, prompting authorities to shut down its mail room and decontaminate workers as a precaution.

Three days later, a letter carrier intercepted 19 more of the letters from an outgoing mailbox in Brodie's multi-unit building, and from that point on, more than 200 were intercepted, all with the same format, Goldkopf said. The one to Bush, addressed to "President Bush, Abilene, TX," was found in the building's outgoing mailbox Sept. 21, according to the complaint.

Psychiatric Evaluation Pending

Interviewed by investigators last November, Davis admitted sending the letter to Bush as well as 11 others found during a search of his trailer home that also found colored pencils, blank envelopes, a hole punch and papers containing the same of some of his addressees, according to the complaint.

He also admitted sending letters to King Abdullah of Jordan and the Russian Interior Minister, Goldkopf said.

 
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